Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction..."

Following on from Chris Jones's fun blog post about film composers, I felt prompted to consider not only my favourite film scores and composers, but also how much music is an integral part of my writing.

With each script I write, there must first be a playlist. Always done it, even back to my first clumsy writing efforts (you might say more thought, talent and deftness of touch went into the C90 mix tapes I used to compile...).

I use music to motivate and inspire my imagination; to get 'that feeling' or emotion and somehow put it into words (try as I may). From an early age, film scores had a big impact on my cinematic memories, whether it was the fanfare of 'Star Wars', the heroic score to 'Superman' or the mystery of 'The Black Hole'.

So here's my list of favourite composers and their work. One thing I have noticed (while compiling this list) is that there aren't many scores from recent times.

Could it be something to do with the shortage of great films? Certainly there are some scores that hook into the brain, like the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' or Bourne movies or  - all fine works, but their imprint is seemingly everywhere. Especially the Hans Zimmer 'whaaaaaaaaarm', which is standard practice in every trailer these days. Or perhaps I'm just a nostalgic old bean?

In no particular order...

Vangelis - Blade Runner / Chariots of Fire

Whilst everyone knows the classic Chariots theme (who hasn't run in fake slow-mo to this?), Blade Runner is a masterclass, dripping with atmosphere whilst adding a bleak, menacing beauty to the gloomy world of Blade Runner. Pure class.

Stand-out tracks: Rachel's song, Blade Runner (End titles)

Roy Budd - Diamonds, Who Dares Wins, Get Carter, The Stone Killer, The Black Windmill

Budd was Mr. Cool. Always down to business, kicking arse and being dead cool with it (Get Carter especially). But my favourite scores have to Diamonds (never seen the film, but must on the basis of the soundtrack!), and The Stone Killer (a barmy Michael Winner effort with Charles Bronson).

Stand-out tracks: The Thief, Thief on the Prowl, Diamond Fortress (Diamonds) / M7 (sk 10), M1 (sk10) (The Stone Killer) / Free Tarrant (The Black Windmill)

Alan Silvestri - Predator / The Abyss / Back To The Future / Young Guns II / Judgement Night /  Flight of the Navigator / Overboard
Prolific composer whose accessible work conveys energy and pace (the various chase sequences in the Back to the Future series). Probably the first film composer whose work I could recognise from
a mile off!

Stand-out tracks: Bud on the ledge / Sub battle (The Abyss) / Hoverboard Chase (Back To The Future II) / Main Theme, Payback Time, Jungle Trek, Blaine Gets Killed (Predator)

Burkhard Dallwitz - The Truman Show

More of a 'favourite OST' here: Dallwitz takes the credit (and rightly so), but this masterful soundtrack also features some exceptional work from Philip Glass.

Stand-out tracks: Glass: Powaqqatsi - 5. Anthem Pt. 2, Drive,
Truman Sleeps, A New Life

Danny Elfman - Beetlejuice / Good Will Hunting / Edward Scissorhands / Batman / Midnight Run / Planet of the Apes

AKA Creator of "The Simpsons" theme tune, Elfman's often frantic, over-the-top style feature heavily in his early work, but his score for "Edward Scissorhands" is beautiful fairytale whimsy.

Stand-out tracks: Main Theme (Beetlejuice) / Will Hunting (GWH) / Theme (Edward Scissorhands)

James Horner - Commando / 48 HRS / Deep Impact / Field of Dreams / Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan/ Cocoon / Aliens / Red Heat / House of Sand and Fog / Batteries Not Included / Apocalypto / Battle Beyond the Stars
Yes, he did 'Titanic'. 'Avatar'. 'Braveheart'. But for me, Horner's early work is where it's at. The scores for 48 HRS, Commando and Red Heat are THE scores to listen to if you're writing heavy, thumping, gritty action scenes. It's like going ten rounds with Schwarzenegger. But Horner also scores emotional highs with 'Field of Dreams', 'Deep Impact' and the darker 'House of Sand and Fog'. The wondrous score of 'Cocoon' was cheekily lifted for the 'Super 8' trailer. As much as I knew it was from 'Cocoon', I had to see 'Super 8' just a little bit more urgently. (Yes, I fell for marketing.)  Horner's body of work is an impressive one, that's for certain.

Stand-out tracks: Ambush & Kidnapping, Infiltration,Showdown And Finale (Commando) / Goodbye & Godspeed (Deep Impact) / End Credits (Field of Dreams) / Waves of the Caspian Sea (House of Sand...) / Russian Streets, Main Title (Red Heat) / Luther's Blues (48 HRS)

Michael Nyman - Ravenous / The Piano

More known for 'The Piano', it was his teaming up with Blur's Damon Albarn for the OST for 'Ravenous' that really intrigued me: It's such an... unusual score; twisted, dark, humorous, scary... all at once.

Stand-out tracks: Trek to the Cave, Ives Torments Boyd and Kills Knox (Ravenous)

Barry De Vorzon - The Warriors

The pounding theme to The Warriors brings the intensity and, dare I say it, makes the cast of The Warriors slightly more menacing (and less mincey in some cases). But De Vorzon recaptured the sense of impending doom with his theme tune for the 80's tv series 'V' - and again, set the scene and made a slightly unconvincing show that much gloomier. Brilliant.

Stand-out tracks: Theme, Baseball Furies Chase (The Warriors) / Main Theme (V)

Gary Chang - The Island of Dr. Moreau

He may have worked on The Breakfast Club's score, but his moment of genius was hampered by a pure gold nutso film - The Island of Dr. Moreau. Again, one of the occasions when the film doesn't warrant such a cracking score.

An overlooked gem, with some completely out of place tracks including a drum 'n bass epic by Monk and Canatella Band - I believe the original director, Richard Stanley, had some input into this, and contractual obligations made the soundtrack as mad as the film itself.

Stand-out tracks: Main Title, Dr. Moreau, Moreau's Demise (Chang), Trout by Monk & Canatella Band

Ennio Morricone - The Untouchables / The Thing / The Mission

Yes, Morricone is more famous for Spaghetti westerns, but The Untouchables is absolutely joyous. Contrast to this, his work on John Carpenter's The Thing poses this question: Why did Carpenter hire another composer to sound just like him?

Stand-out tracks: Just buy The Untouchables OST, okay?

John Carpenter - Big Trouble in Little China / Escape From New York / Assault on Precinct 13 / They Live

Which leads us nicely to Mr. DIY himself. I recall an interview where Carpenter said he played the bongos/percussion a lot in his early years, and proceeded to play the theme tune to Halloween - on the bongos. Fantastic.

Carpenter has many scores to choose from, and seeing how I don't particularly like listening to horror scores (Why would you do that to yourself? Why?), I'm plumping for the brooding 'Escape...' OST and most preferably, the atmospheric, pulsing 'Big Trouble...' OST.

Stand-out tracks: Lo Pan's Domain, Abduction at Airport, White Tiger (Big Trouble...)

John Barry - The Black Hole / The Bond movies
John Barry will be forever in my mind as the man that scored two of the big films from my early cinema-going days:

Moonraker and The Black Hole.

Probably the first time I sat up and noticed a film score was due to Barry's soundscape - his music always sounded BIG. The swirling 'zero gravity/Main Theme' of The Black Hole was underpinned with typical ghostly romantic drama.

Whilst the score does suffer from (I believe) an 'enforced' hero theme (probably to make it more kiddy-friendly: The Black Hole is DARK. Someone should remake it - with  Barry's score - and make it for the grown ups this time.), it's easy to put that less convincing addition aside and focus on the doomy brilliance of Barry.

Stand-out tracks: Durant is Dead (The Black Hole)

Jerry Goldsmith - Total Recall / Gremlins / First Blood / Alien / Hollow Man / Basic Instinct / Star Trek NG

Goldsmith's diversity is what makes him stand out for me, yet he had an uncanny knack of capturing the heart of the film's characters within his scores - the loopy Gremlins theme, the unearthly Alien score, the sadness-tinged Rambo score...

Stand-out tracks: The Dream (Total Recall) / Main Theme (Alien) /  The entire First Blood OST

Burwell: AKA The Third Coen Brother.
Carter Burwell - Fargo / Barton Fink / Miller's Crossing / Raising Arizona / Three Kings / Being John Malkovich

Always capturing the unique tone of the Coen's movies - If you're not entirely certain what you're in for, let Burwell be your guide. His scores neatly compliment the subtext in certain scenes, which is a rare quality.

Stand-out tracks: Fargo OST / The Gold (Three Kings) / Main Theme (Miller's Crossing)

Michael Kamen - Die Hard / Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves / Highlander / Brazil / Lethal Weapon

Seemingly cornering the action hero scores of the 80's and early 90's, the score for me is Highlander. Yes, Die Hard wouldn't be Die Hard without those plucky acoustic guitars, Disney wouldn't have their DVD theme tune without the Robin Hood theme, but the Highlander score is just so sweepingly heroic (and sadly overlooked) that it's always there on my playlist, even if just to lift my spirit.
Stand-out tracks: Training MacLeod (Highlander)

David Shire - Saturday Night Fever / The Taking of Pelham 123

Creator of two extremely funky scores, Shire's Pelham OST is a corker. Buy it. And the film, while yer at it.

Stand-out tracks: Main title, Fifty Seconds/The Money Express, Mini-Manhunt

John Williams - Jurassic Park/The Lost World / Indy Jones / Star Wars / Superman / E.T. / Jaws/  The Poseidon Adventure... the list goes on.

A genius.What else can I add?

Stand-out tracks: The Asteroid Field (Empire Strikes...) / Main Theme, Anything Goes (Indy) / Looking Back (Jurassic Park) / Malcolm's Journey, The Trek, The Hunt, Rescuing Sarah (Lost World) / Duel of the Fates (Phantom Menace) / Theme (Superman) / Theme (E.T.) / Theme (Jaws)

David Newman - Heathers

Probably in my top three of favourite scores, and one of my all-time favourite films.

Sharp, warped, impish, wistful, dreamy, chilling... heavy on the 80's atmos, but it captures the tone of the film brilliantly.

Stand-out tracks: Petition Montage, Back to School, Forest Chase

Elmer Bernstein - An American Werewolf in London / Ghostbusters / Stripes / Spies Like Us / Trading Places / Three Amigos / Airplane / Animal House

The go-to man for comedy maybe, but the sheer catchy-ness of his themes earn him a place in the hall of legends.

Stand-out tracks: Suite (American Werewolf...) / Main Theme (Ghostbusters)

Howard Blake - Flash Gordon / The Snowman / The Bear

Co-creator of the Flash Gordon soundtrack with Queen, but it's Blake's work on The Snowman and The Bear which really single him out: His scores tell a story.

Stand-out tracks: Football Fight II,  Battle Theme (Flash Gordon) / The entire Snowman & The Bear scores.

Other worthy mentions:
Howard Shore - The Fly / The Lord of the Rings (The Fly captures Brundle's tragedy perfectly)
Leonard Rosenman - The Lord of the Rings (animated: Rousing stuff, with motifs repeated in Star Trek 4)
Ry Cooder - Southern Comfort (Cooder's work with Walter Hill is especially stand-out stuff)
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator ("The Battle", even if it rings close to Holst's "Mars, the bringer of war")
Brad Fiedel - The Terminator / True Lies (Terminator theme: Stone cold classic.)
Jon Brion - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Lovely melancholy, nostalgic themes)
Basil Poledouris - Robocop (Fun, slightly B-Movie-tinged quality whilst complimenting Verhoeven's style)
Dave Grusin - The Goonies / St. Elsewhere (The Goonies spirited score: Brill)
Marco Beltrami - Scream (Trouble in Woodsboro - love it)
Miles Goodman - Teen Wolf (I don't care, y'know. It's an 80's classic.)
Chris Boardman - Payback (Nicely harks back to the main theme from 'Pelham 123')
Rolfe Kent - Sideways ("Wine Safari" always makes me smile)
Peter Best - Crocodile Dundee (Main Theme has a great sly edge to it)
John Harrison - Day Of The Dead (If you want to creep yourself out, go for it.)
David Kitay - Ghost World (Main theme - has heart-plucking loneliness in spades!)
Arthur Rubenstein - War Games ("Turn your key, sir!" - Rubenstein goes for it...)
Yann Tiersen - Amelie (La Valse d'Amélie, L'autre Valse d'Amélie: Where's my beret?)
Bill Conti - Rocky / The Karate Kid / For Your Eyes Only (Master of the rousing climax!)
Toto - Dune (Bit 'rock guitar' in places, but taps into Lynch's pomp 'n lunacy nicely)
Tangerine Dream - Near Dark / The Keep / Risky Business (Check out TD's synth version of 'Walking in the Air', which plays at the end of 'The Keep')
Paul Buckmaster - 12 monkeys (The opening track captures the madness brilliantly)
Lalo Schifrin - Bullitt and the theme to Magnum Force
Robbie Buchanan - The Golden Child. Depending on what version you're watching (there's an alt. version which begins with some horrible 80's bland rock...). This track also served as the theme tune to 'Cinemattractions', which used to play on ITV sometime in the early 90's, in the middle of the night.
Angelo Badalamenti - Mr. Twin Peaks. Listen to 'The Pink Room'.
TomandandyRules of Attraction
Maurice Jarre - The Man Who Be King
David Arnold - Composer for the recent Bond movies, he also created this Hot Fuzz gem.
John Murphy - 28 Days Later:  In a Heartbeat

James Bond:
Connery era - From Russia With Love (007 takes the lektor)
Lazenby - Durrr!
Moore - Live and Let Die (Trespassers will be eaten)
Dalton - Living daylights (Exercise at Gibraltar, Necros Attacks)
Brosnan - Tomorrow Never Dies (Backseat Driver, Hamburg Break-out)
Craig - Casino Royale (African Rundown, Miami International)

and not forgetting two pure gold TV themes: Miami Vice and The Equalizer. Check out the live version!

There are a couple of notable bootlegs doing the rounds, too.

Beverly Hills Cop by Harold Faltermeyer
The Lost Boys by Thomas Newman

Both worth getting hold of, if you can.

Whenever I'm writing action scenes - big, silly, bombastic, insane stuff (in particular, my 'Border World' scripts), I turn to a score by Michael Giacchino (JJ Abrams and Pixar's go-to guy). And whilst I like his film work (in particular, the bizarre theme to 'Land of the Lost'), it's Giacchino's score for a Playstation game that wins hands down.

Medal of Honor: Underground.

Daring, bold, atmospheric, gloriously bombastic - it's a sort of rollicking jumble of Indy Jones-meets-Tintin: In a World War 2 caper.

This score need not languish; forgotten in time on some ancient console (as much as I still love that game!). This score needs a script written for it. It must live again!

Stand-out track: The Motorcycle chase. LISTEN HERE!

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